My alma mater, as it stirs for a new semester, how confused it has become.

Why did Duke need a presidential commission to realize its lacrosse players and other athletes live in a unique bubble, an “elitist, arrogant sub-culture … both indulged and self-indulgent?” This culture is just a logical extension of how athletes get into Duke. Consider, for example, the lanky recruit ushered into the inner office of the dean of admissions three years ago and approved without ever taking the SAT.

Doesn’t this implant the idea that you stand apart?

There is one unpublicized NCAA report about our athletes who did bother to sit through the SAT: Freshmen on one men’s team had an average score of 997 and on another team 1063, while men not on athletic scholarship typically achieved 1438, the 97th percentile. The situation with women athletes is similar.

That’s one of few glimpses under the shroud that covers the athletic department. Shroud? Just try and find out about the budget. Awash with new facilities and new assistant coaches and trainers, who knows the appropriation or how it compares in generosity with money for the law school or the history or English departments? How can alumni and other members of the community possibly contribute to dialogue about priorities and what Duke might be, without such basic information?

Duke is perennially late in filing its tax return, much of it secret but one arcane part public by federal law. The latest documents online cover 2003-04, when Coach K grossed $800,000 in base salary, plus an astounding expense account and other allowances of $617,028–probably more than all tenured history professors combined. And that’s before counting hefty fees for endorsements, motivational speeches and broadcasting, or a $200,000 a year raise after spurning the Lakers in late 2004. The same tax filing reveals that the vice president for institutional equity, who handles commitment to affirmative action and fairness, earned about half what the athletic director pulled down and $58,000 less than any other VP. He’s the black one.

The special report on the administration’s response to the lacrosse crisis notes the university’s top spokesman made the first public comment, fostering the notion that “Duke cared mainly about PR matters and less about the core issues.” With this idea afloat, the university president appointed two former trustees as personal advisers, introducing Roy Bostock (Class of ’62) as head of a financial company that in reality is merely a shell for his personal investments with no outside clients, omitting his nearly four decades in advertising and PR, a career of manipulating image and packaging.

Yes, the university now concludes it is sending a mixed message on alcohol. This same adviser, we learn through a student newspaper letter thanking him, personally paid for booze to flow freely, legal drinking age be damned, at the outdoor spring Masquerade featuring dozens and dozens of kegs and hundreds and hundreds of bottles of wine. Bostock also chairs the national Partnership for a Drug-Free America aimed at teenagers, a responsibility apparently defined very narrowly.

One self-examination on campus took a hard look at tailgating, marveling how students are more interested in getting drunk in a parking lot graced by Dean Sue and others who conjured up the idea of shooing cops to create an enforcement-free zone, than in going into the stadium to watch a losing football game. Curiously–well, perhaps I do know the reason–there’s been no similar public confession for the slosh that engulfs Cameron Crazies in K-ville, the unique Duke spectacle named for the coach that involves sleeping in cold tents for weeks to secure the best basketball seats, or for the irresponsible victory bonfires fueled by alcohol and, on occasion, nudity.

I learned from an issue of the alumni magazine that was waiting when I returned from a long summer vacation that teammates of the first black basketball player frequently whispered the same appellation shouted at the strippers as they left the lacrosse party. As if the N-word were not enough, the black player revealed he was not invited to the team’s year-end banquet, making you wonder what the coach and athletic director were thinking. When you factor in that the athletic director still refused to take down the “Colored” sign over Section 11 for football games after Duke got black students, I’m thinking maybe we should restore the original name to Duke Indoor Stadium.

You’d hope that today’s faculty would never tolerate such outrage, but many live in an enclave carved from Duke Forest where homes can never be sold to Negroes. Their deeds, signed by presidents through Douglas Knight, say so; moreover no Negro can even sleep on the property unless he or she is household help. These covenants cannot be enforced in court, but they nonetheless bind the parties, reveal their intent and last forever unless absolved. The university counsel told me two years ago he was thinking about it.

Some prescient donors many years ago feared a future with integration, so they specified their endowment gifts must be used in perpetuity for whites only. Duke accepted tainted money even after admitting blacks. Last year, an e-mail inquiring whether these funds still function bounced around the administration’s Allen Building until an underling finally wrote that Duke is doing everything legal. Which is different from answering yes or no.

Whatever happened at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. obscures such issues nowadays at Duke. Not many believed the news release that the coach “resigned,” some saying it was as big a lie as the stripper’s accusation of rape. We now know that Coach Pressler was given 24 hours to leave campus, President Brodhead tossing the words “highly appropriate” as the door slammed, a conclusion the president now seems to swallow with solid praise for the coach.

In a new interview with The New Yorker magazine, Brodhead even seems to flirt with apology to Ryan McFadyen, reinstated as student and lacrosse player after instant suspension and no due process for an e-mail intended as parody.

Indeed, Trustee Chairman Robert Steel concedes PR was at the heart of derailing the lacrosse season; with TV showing the players still practicing, what The New Yorker called “an endless video loop suggesting institutional indifference,” Steel said, “We had to stop those pictures…. It doesn’t mean that it’s fair…. It doesn’t necessarily mean I think it was right…. It just had to be done.”

As Brodhead put it, April 5 was “a day of great hysteria.”

With Pressler the scapegoat, Brodhead later took still unexplained action, relieving executive vice president Tallman Trask (T3 for insiders) of direct responsibility for athletics and adding supervision to the president’s portfolio. A rebuke? More cosmetics? A show of presidential leadership? What curves lie ahead for Student Affairs Vice President Moneta (L-Mo), Athletic Director Alleva or Dean Sue Wasiolek, all criticized in review of the administration’s response to the lacrosse culture and crisis?

If you had any doubt about the transcendency of PR in all this, witness the hiring of industry giant Edelman, confirmed with no price tag revealed, bringing Duke a superbly paid team of consultants. Sample Edelman answers: the 800 number to call on Thanksgiving for help in basting your Butterball, the dolphin-safe tuna campaign aimed at kids for StarKist, and soothing introduction of M&M’s and KFC to China soon after Tiananmen Square.

So lacrosse is back with strict decorum agreed to by players (translation: dictated to); yet the golf team, which emerged with a far more serious cultural problem in one of the Brodhead reports, is still swinging with no handicap. And the class of 2010 has arrived without the usual news release touting its credentials or the usual admissions office update of the entering class profile on its Web site, both suspicious in a year when the lacrosse mess forced the admissions dean to resort to more than 100 B-list applicants to fill the dorms.

Meanwhile, the PR people try to reassure with good news beyond lax. Example: exulting that after a year’s search, the government of Singapore picked Duke as its partner for a new medical school. Omitted: The search took so long because Warwick University in England, involved in similar contracts, bowed out over academic freedom and diversity issues that Duke’s faculty seems oblivious to. We bubble that Duke can do it–though Johns Hopkins and Singapore are currently engaged in a bitter dispute over a similar deal because Hopkins cannot deliver the doctors and research scientists it promised to live in the Southeast Asian city-state.

With Singapore slinging $310 million over seven years, the dean of Duke Medical School, who used to have a full-time job in Durham, now spends half his days quite close to the public square where one of the most repressive regimes on earth carries out many of its gruesome bloody public whippings, more than 3,000 last year. By law, a doctor is present at each, soon in Duke smock with Duke degree, to stop the medieval battering if the victim falls unconscious, to revive him or her, and to signal resumption of the savagery when every lash can be fully felt. We’re in bed with this government.

And to come full circle back to West Campus, as the aroma of beer outside at twilight yielded to evening whiffs of pot in the dorms for the last day of classes’ bacchanalia, a participating female student walked hand in hand with a male celebrant across Keohane Quadrangle to his room.

Post midnight, she reported a rape. Unlike L’Affair Lacrosse, with its clash of color, class and privilege, we haven’t heard any more of it as a new semester dawns.

Ed Rickards (Duke ’63 and Duke Law ’66) developed a strong interest in Duke while editor of The Chronicle, 1962-63, and never let go. Rickards pursued a career in journalism, first as a correspondent in the New York bureau of the Associated Press, and then in broadcasting. He’s been at ABC, CBS and NBC as a writer, editor, producer, executive editor, executive producer and news director. He lives in Manhattan.